That one time the gallery smelled like sweet rotting water

Minneapolis, MN—May 2007

By 2007, we were settling into a groove with our curation and execution. Art-A-Whirl was a fine example of this. While Art-A-Whirl centered mainly around the visual, we wanted to push the envelope a little bit. What about people that were not able to see art? What about other types of inspiration? These ponderings brought about the idea for the exhibition Art for the Other Senses—works that would engage the sight, hearing, and sense of smell of the viewer.

During Art-A-Whirl the Q.arma building alone receives at least five to seven thousand people. With so many artists in the district, guests often talked about being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of art—a good problem to have! But it’s rather like advertising during Christmas—at some point everything becomes a beautiful blur. So, we’d usually take a different approach to the big event: instead of focusing on the event as a huge sales opportunity, we were looking for impact of the art itself. As guests went from studio to studio, what would stand out? What would be remembered? What would be enjoyable and engaging? As a community nonprofit we had a little bit more liberty to experiment with this than other studio artists banking on a stellar sales weekend. We decided this would be a great month to test out our experimental topic, Roger Lootine created an awesome poster for the exhibition, and off we went.


The Art for the Other Senses exhibit was eclectic. Emily Newman crafted a raised-surface doily-patterned mural composed of a soft, wax-like substance with the strong scent of BENGAY. Edward Kelly brought a long, deep trough filled with Kool-Aid, which became increasingly putrid as the month progressed. I presented in this exhibition as well, with a piece about justice: a woman’s bust with two scales, one on either side, holding edible candies, each laced with a strong bittering agent. Lucas Schulze created small works in braille on handmade paper.

It was interactive, fragrant, and fun. Several of the works rotted as the summer wore on, so it was quite a stinky feat to carefully deinstall. But judging from the reactions of guests throughout the weekend, the Art-A-Whirl crowd loved it.

How we approached that exhibition and Art-A-Whirl in general was a reflection on our niche and what set us apart from other spaces and studios at the time. We continued down that path repeatedly, continually pushing for the next differentiator. On being different: sometimes it might smell bad, but at least you’ll never be boring!


This post is adapted from It’s Never Going To Work: A Tale of Art and Nonprofits in the Minneapolis Community with illustrations by Athena Currier. Post graphics by Jamie Schumacher. ©2019. Art for the Other Senses illustration by Roger Lootine.

It’s Never Going To Work is a light-hearted, illustrated book that offers real-life insights on founding a community space and nonprofit. It provides tools, tips, resources, and camaraderie to community organizers and anybody attempting something new.